Text messages direct Kansas voters to wrong polling location

By: - October 31, 2022 4:45 pm
A text message and image of a polling site appear on a phone screen

Registered voters in Kansas received text messages that appear to be sent by “Mari with Voting Futures” and encourage them to vote. But the messages direct voters to incorrect polling sites. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab warned voters Monday not to be fooled by text messages directing them to the wrong polling location.

Schwab and voter advocates stressed the need to verify polling location with state and local officials. Voters can find their polling location through the Secretary of State website.

The unsolicited text messages, which arrived Sunday night and appeared to target Democrats and unaffiliated voters, mirror similar misinformation campaigns in other states.

“Voters should be on high alert for these messages,” Schwab said. “The Secretary of State’s Office does not use third parties to contact voters or share election information on our behalf. State and local election officials are the trusted sources for election information, and I encourage voters to contact our office or their county election office for assistance.”

Numerous images shared with Kansas Reflector and on social media show registered voters received text messages that identified their home address, which was correct, and the address of their supposed voting location, which was incorrect. The text was accompanied by an image of the incorrect polling location.

The messages claim to be from Mari with an organization called Voting Futures. A variant identified Black Voters Matter as the source. It wasn’t immediately clear who really sent the texts.

“These texts are designed to spread false information and create confusion for registered voters,” said Deann Mitchell, chairwoman of the Johnson County Democrats. “Any attempts to disenfranchise voters is an attack on the election process.”

Earlier this month, KGW-TV and other news outlets reported on a similar text message campaign in Oregon. There, the texts were sent by “Myra” from Voting Futures, with a variant from Voto Latino. KSG-TV identified Movement Labs as the sender of the Oregon texts.

Movement Labs, which claims on its website to “leverage technology and our army of passionate, remote volunteers to build power for progressives and marginalized communities,” didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment for this story.

A text message sent Monday afternoon appeared to be from Movement Labs and said the organization was “deeply sorry for any confusion we caused.” The new message directed voters to the Secretary of State website to find accurate information about their polling place.

Voto Latino in a statement Monday said it sent unintentionally confusing text messages to voters in Kansas, New Jersey, Illinois, North Carolina and Virginia to encourage them to vote, and that it sent corrected follow-up text messages.

Esmie Tseng, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said the ACLU election hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683), had fielded calls about the misleading text messages.

Tseng said it was concerning that certain voters appeared to be targeted over others. The text messages were a good reminder that voters should go to trusted sources for information about how to vote.

“It’s already hard enough for voters to figure out how they want to vote according to their values and beliefs and with the different amendments and candidates,” Tseng said. “Making it harder to vote this way is just a little bit much, and I’d hate for a voter to go somewhere and it’s the wrong place.”

Election Day is Nov. 8. In-person early voting is available at local election offices.

Nov. 1 is the deadline to apply for an advanced mail ballot, which has to be postmarked by Nov. 8 and delivered to the county election office by Nov. 11.

The deadline to register to vote in the general election was Oct. 18.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.